Notes on John 6:1-15

John 6:1-15
Our Gospel now gives us the great miracle, or sign rather, common to all the four; and this, as ever here, introductorily to the discourse that follows—Christ, incarnate and in death, the food of eternal life for those who believe on His name. Here it is the Son of man humbled and ascended, as in chapter v. the Son of God quickening those that hear, and by-and-by as Son of man about to judge those that believe not.
“After these things Jesus went away beyond the sea of Galilee, of Tiberias; and a great crowd followed him because they saw the1 signs which he wrought on the sick. But Jesus went up into the mountain, and there sat with his disciples; and the passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. Jesus then lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great crowd cometh unto him, saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat? But this he said, trying him, for he knew what he was about to do. Philip answered him, Loaves for two hundred pence are not sufficient for them, that each of them2 may have some little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith to him, There is a little buy here that hath five barley-loaves and two fishes; but these, what are they for so many?” (Ver. 1-9.)
The scene is wholly changed from Jerusalem. We see the Lord in Galilee, and in that part of the lake called from the city of Tiberias, as well as from the province bordering on its western side. A great crowd follows Him because of the signs He wrought on the sick. The Lord withdraws to the high land, where He sits with His disciples, the passover being then at hand. None of the motives mentioned in the synoptic accounts do we find here: neither the beheading of John Baptist, nor the apostles' return from their mission, nor the need of rest after toils in teaching or other work. Jesus fills the picture: all is in His hand. It is He who takes the initiative; not that the disciples may not have previously been perplexed, nor as if John did not know this as well as Matthew and the rest, but because it pleased the Holy Spirit to give us Christ Himself alone master of the situation, as always in his Gospel. The nearness of the passover is noted, as repeatedly in this Gospel. Here too there was the reason first that the discourse that follows, as well as the sign wrought, is grounded on eating and drinking as the token of communion.
“Jesus then lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a great crowd cometh unto him, saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat?” The evangelist however is careful of His glory and loses no time in letting us know that it was out of no uncertainty in His own mind, but in order to test Philip: He knew what He was going to do. Nevertheless He awaits the despairing words of Philip's fellow-townsman, Andrew, and would teach all now what His gracious power loves to do with the little and despised, were it for the greatest need. Simon Peter's brother, who was even before his brother in seeing the Messiah, could think of a little boy with five barley-loaves and two fishes, not of Jesus. And where was Peter? where John, the disciple that He loved? Nowhere in faith. Truly flesh cannot glory in His presence.
Let us turn to the One we may and ought to glory in, honoring the Father in honoring Him. “Jesus said, Make the [ἀνθρὠπους] people sit [or, lie] down. Now there was much grass in the place. The men [ἅνδρες] then sat down in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves and, having given thanks,3 distributed4 to those that were sat down, and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. But when they were filled, he saith to his disciples, Gather the fragments that are over, that nothing be lost. They gathered [them] then, and filled twelve baskets with fragments of the five barley-loaves which were over to those that had eaten. The people [ἀνθρώπους] then, having seen the sign which Jesus5 did, said, This is truly the prophet that is coming into the world. Jesus then, knowing that they would come and seize him that they might make [him] king, withdrew to the mountain himself alone.” (Ver. 10-16.)
I am afraid that, poor as was the intelligence of the Galilean crowd, they understood. the import of this great sign better than the Christendom of the last seventeen hundred years. They were no doubt dull enough as to their deepest need, and they had no appreciation of the Savior's grace in humiliation and redemption, afterward fully set forth by Him in the discourse that ensues; but they had some thoughts not wholly untrue, though human and short enough, of the kingdom God is going to set up here below. Now and for many centuries theology indulges in a sort of mystic dream that the gospel or church is the kingdom of Christ, His kingdom of grace to be at the end His kingdom of glory. But they have no thought of His coming in the kingdom He will have received, that not Israel only but all people, nations, and languages should serve Him, and this too an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. A two-fold error, which lets slip the oneness of the body of Christ, the church, with its glorified Head on high, and denies the mercy and faithfulness of God to Israel who are the destined center of Jehovah's earthly plans for the kingdom, when we, changed into the likeness of His glory, shall reign together with Christ.
The crowd were struck with the fulfillment of this fresh and crowning sign. They had not abandoned as yet their hopes. They knew that Jehovah has chosen Zion; that He has desired it for His habitation; that He will abundantly bless her provision and satisfy her poor with bread. (Psa. 132) Was not He who now displayed this power of Jehovah the promised son of David whom Jehovah will set on His throne? Such was their conclusion. “This is truly the prophet that is coming into the world.” They thus bound up the law, Psalms, and prophets in their testimony to the Messiah; and so far they were quite right. But not so in their desire, which the Lord knew, to force Him to be king. For this would be in no way the kingdom of God but of man, nor of heaven but of earth. Not so: as He Himself taught afterward, He was to go into a far country to receive for Himself a kingdom and to return. Not till then shall the kingdom of God appear.
Till then it is a question for us of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and the kingdom is not in word but in power, and it is known to faith, not displayed yet. But it will not be always hidden as now nor the domain of purely spiritual power. Christ will come in His kingdom and reign till He has put all enemies under His feet, after asking from Jehovah, who will give Him, the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. It will be no question then as now of patiently working by the gospel, but of breaking the nations with a rod of iron and of dashing them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Unbelief either antedates the kingdom, striving to set it up now by man's will, or abandons it for the delusion of human progress without a thought of God's purpose to establish it by Christ the second Man when the first is judged. Faith patiently waits for it meanwhile. So the Lord declined then and went up on high—this time Himself alone. It was the figure of what is actually true. Owned as Prophet, He refuses to be man's king, and goes above to exercise His intercession, as He is now doing, the great Priest in the presence of God.